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A Curable Romantic Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 7, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565129296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129290
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,737,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Skibell's fat, cheeky, and sweeping latest begins in early 1895 Austria when his endearing protagonist, young Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, comes face-to-face with Sigmund Freud in a room full of mirrors that create an ironic "unending trail of Freuds." Eventually, the story follows Sammelsohn through the shadow of Freud, the arms of several lovers, and eventually to the Warsaw ghetto, providing a grand portrait of Eastern Europe, but it is the initial setup of Sammelsohn as a naiÌêve crucible for Freud's vicarious obsessions that makes Skibell (A Blessing on the Moon) more of a social satirist than a straightforward portraitist. In the figure of Sammelsohn, we see the timid makings of the modern psychoanalytic man: the young doctor is, at heart, a lonely romantic led into a bungle of overanalysis in a world "glittering with the usual accoutrements of late-century masquerade," sporting the foolish instrumentation of "monocles, lorgnettes, pince-nez, stickpins, watchfobs" and an "assortment of impractical hats." Skibell's delicious juxtaposition of Sammelsohn against the cocainesnorting Freud, and Sammelsohn's infatuation with the "cruel, vindictive, haughty, caustic, dismissive, even murderous" character of Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's patients, make for a magnetic collection of personalities.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Skibell’s sweeping, imaginative epic chronicles the tumultuous life of an endearing protagonist, Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, which includes a unique relationship with Sigmund Freud, the universal language movement, and WWII. In 1895 Vienna, Sammelsohn, an oculist, is love-struck by Emma Eckstein, one of Freud’s best-known patients. Sammelsohn’s pursuit of Eckstein becomes complicated when she is possessed by the spirit of Sammelsohn’s childhood bride, Ita, who committed suicide after being abandoned the day of their wedding. While Freud and Sammelsohn argue over the best treatment for Eckstein, Ita and Sammelsohn’s relationship deepens, culminating in a mystical scene. Later, Sammelsohn meets Dr. Ludovik Leyzer Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, and becomes immersed in the language and its ideals of worldwide peace. One of Esperanto’s outspoken proponents is the wealthy Loë Bernfeld, with whom Sammelsohn quickly falls in love. Though the two marry, Ita continues to pursue Sammelsohn, making an inopportune appearance at a crucial delegation meeting. Finally, Sammelsohn’s journey brings him to the terrors of 1940 Warsaw, where, with the help of a rebbe, he embarks on an otherworldly voyage. Skibell (The English Disease, 2003) crafts a vivid, artfully clever tale grounded in turn-of-the century Europe. --Leah Strauss

More About the Author

Joseph Skibell's debut novel, A Blessing on the Moon, received the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. A Book of the Month Club selection, the novel was named one of the year's best books by Publishers Weekly, Le Monde and Amazon.Com, and has been translated into half a dozen languages. The novel is currently being adapted into an opera. His second novel, The English Disease, received the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. A Curable Romantic is his third novel. A recipient of a Halls Fiction Fellowship, a Michener Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Skibell is a professor at Emory University and the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature. He has been invited to give the inaugural reading in the Jewish Literature Series at the University of Pennsylania. (Photo by Jeffrey Allen)

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Customer Reviews

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His language is beautifully and evocatively descriptive.
Reuven Travis
So don't be put off by its length- it is a fairly fast read.
Michael Lewyn
The plot became nonsensical, jarring, and just plain silly.
Lilspotteddog

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Science, religion, and language intersect in this edgy, Judeo-mystic satire about love, brotherhood, and neuroses in fin-de-siècle Vienna. In 1895, oculist Jakob Sammelsohn meets Sigmund Freud on the same night that he eyes and falls in love with Freud's primary patient, Emma Eckstein. As Jakob is guided into Freud's world of psychoanalysis, he reluctantly becomes a guide himself. He plunges into the mythological realm of a dybbuk, the dislocated spirit of his dead wife, Ita, who possesses and inhabits Emma. Or so Ita-as-Emma claims. As the relationship intensifies between Jakob, Freud, and Emma, Ita's haunting voice lures Jakob into a psychosexual seduction.

But here in Vienna, the cultural center of the world, supernatural notions and Jewish folklore is rejected in favor of more intrepid theories of science and psychology. Freud believes Emma is in the throes of hysteria, while his friend, Dr. Fliess, advances the theory of "nasal reflex neurosis" as the source of all unhappiness. In the meantime, Jakob just wants to lose his virginity. His tyrannical father, who spoke to him only in Hebrew scripture, forced him to marry Ita, the village "idiot," after the first forced marriage to Hindele ended in chaste disaster. Just after the wedding, Ita fled and drowned herself. But she is back and commanding Jakob with menace and affection.

Jakob later meets Dr. Ludvik Zamenhof, a half-blind, retired oculist and language enthusiast. Zamenhof's aim is to join all of humanity in a utopian, universal language called Esperanto. When Jakob meets the radiant Esperanto patron, Loe Bernfeld, he is smitten. Subsequently, Jakob is thrust into an idealistic world of love and linguistics--the neutral tongue to unite the world and a passionate one to join him with Loe.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bob Rosen on October 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
SPOILER ALERT

Mr. Skibell may be a brilliant and inventive writer, and his sentences sparkle with a wicked sense of humor, but, alas, he's also incredibly self-indulgent and tiresome.

The best part (Part 1) turns the history of psychoanalysis on its head. According to which Freud abandoned his "seduction theory" (his female hysterics were suffering from repressed memories of actual familial sexual abuse) and focused instead on his patient's repressed sexual fantasies. But here Skibell fantasizes a parallel universe in which the Herr Doktor abandons the notion of repression altogether, forced to accept the astounding Truth that his most famous patient, Emma Eckstein, has been possessed by a dybbuk, who turns out to be none other than the dead wife of Dr. Sammelsohn, Skibell's fictional schlemiel hero.

Some of this is indeed hysterically funny. But having pulled off this fantastical joke, he tries to do it all over again in Part 2, this time with the early history of Esperanto, the invention of another Jewish doctor. Once again, the inept Dr. Sammelsohn blunders into a frustrating erotic obsession with a female devotee of the Master. But this time, it's not in the least funny. It goes on and on, and the satirical depiction of the fanatical attempt to bring about world peace through a common lingua franca (and the bumbling attempts of the hero to insert his tongue into the elusive object of his desire) soon wears very thin.

Esperanto's naïve idealism is way too easy a target for derision, and the author spends way too much time detailing the petty internal dissensions and nasty anti-Semitism that poisoned the movement from within.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on September 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Authors seem to have a particular affection for fin de siecle Vienna, not unusual as it was a time of intense creativity in science and the arts. It was in this period that modernism was born, and historical events set in motion which would affect the world for decades to come. I can think of at least half a dozen novels set in this period, but 'A Curable Romantic' is one of the best.

Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, born into a Hasidic family in Galicia, finds himself married off not once, but twice as a boy, by his dictatorial father, as a punishment for reading forbidden books. The second wife is Ita, a brain damaged farm girl who can only speak by repeating back what the speaker says to her. Sammelsohn throws off the yoke of his family's mystical religiosity dumping Ita and heads for the big city of Vienna. The novel opens with him, now an ophthamologist, falling in love with a beautiful young lady he sees at the theater. She turns out to be none other than Fraulein Emma Eckstein, a soon to be famous patient of Sigmund Freud. Soon Sammelsohn meets the beautiful Fraulein via an introduction from Dr. Freud and the young ophthamologist becomes involved in Freud's scientific milieu. Amongst others he meets Dr. Wilhelm Fleiss, a close friend of Freud's, who believes the nose is connected to the erogenous zones, and that sexual pathology can be cured by operating on this organ. When a voice seems to be speaking through the throat of Fraulein Eckstein, the debate begins. Is this a sympton of hysteria or possession by someone from the spirit world, possibily even Dr. Samuelsohn's second wife Ita? Thus begins the central focus of the novel, the inherent tension between rationalism and mysticism.

Dr.
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